Welcome to the 2021-22 NHL season

NHL 2021-22
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The 2021-22 NHL season begins Tuesday night with a doubleheader. Before they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Tampa Bay Lightning will raise another Stanley Cup banner to the AMALIE Arena rafters. Following that game the expansion Seattle Kraken will make their debut on the road against the Vegas Golden Knights.

As we wait for puck drop, here’s what you might have missed during a short, but busy NHL offseason.

NEW FACES IN NEW PLACES

A whole slew of players changed teams in one night with the Kraken selecting their first roster during the NHL Expansion Draft in July.

When Free Agent Frenzy opened, so too did the wallets of many teams. The Lightning lost their entire third line with Blake Coleman signing in Calgary, Yanni Gourde going to Seattle in the expansion draft, and Barclay Goodrow being dealt and signing with the Rangers. The defending champions also watched defenseman David Savard, who was acquired at the trade deadline, sign in Montreal.

As the Bruins wait for Tuukka Rask to heal up, they’ll go with the goalie tandem of Jeremy Swayman, who got a cameo at the end of last season, and Linus Ullmark, who they lured from Buffalo.

Frederik Andersen and Petr Mrazek swapped places with Andersen heading to Carolina and Mrazek pairing up with Jack Campbell in goal in Toronto. The Hurricanes brought in Tony DeAngelo, who was bought out by the Rangers, and watched as Dougie Hamilton cashed in with a long-term deal in New Jersey.

St. Louis brought in Brandon Saad as a scoring winger, while Mike Hoffman left for greener pastures in Montreal.

Keith Yandle will attempt to set the NHL Ironman record in Philadelphia on a blue line that will also see Ryan Ellis, who spent the last decade in Nashville.

The Wild bit the bullet and bought out the contracts of both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Parise landed with the Islanders, where he dad played parts of four seasons in the 1970s, and Suter inked a deal with the Stars.

After losing to the Lightning in the last two Stanley Cup Finals with two different teams, Corey Perry decided to join them on a one-year deal.

Zach Hyman cashed in with a rich deal in Edmonton and will be further rewarded playing on a line with either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.

Two future Hall of Famers and long-time NHL veterans were on the move this summer. Joe Thornton took his big, scruffy beard south to join the Panthers, while Zdeno Chara signed with the Islanders, the team that drafted him 56th overall in 1996.

Late in August, we had our first successful offer sheet since Dustin Penner in 2007. Two years after the Hurricanes matched the Canadiens’ offer sheet for Sebastian Aho, Montreal let Jesperi Kotkaniemi go to Carolina on a one-year, $6.1 million contract.

Summer time was also trading season for GMs. Rasmus Ristolainen went from Buffalo to Philadelphia; Pavel Buchnevich was dealt from the Rangers to the Blues; Seth Jones joins brother Caleb in Chicago after years in Columbus; Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland were shipped to Vancouver from the rebuilding Coyotes for a packae that included Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, and Antoine Roussel; Jakub Voracek heads back to Columbus with Cam Atkinson moving on to the Flyers; Robin Lehner is the unquestioned No. 1 in Vegas now that Marc-Andre Fleury is in Chicago; Tyler Johnson is also in Chicago after the Lightning moved him on to take Brent Seabrook’s cap hit; Darcy Kuemper takes over from Phillip Grubauer in the Colorado net; and the Rangers feel they’ve helped their Tom Wilsom problem by adding Ryan Reaves.

2021-22 DIVISIONAL ALIGNMENT

This season will see the return of an 82-game schedule and the divisional alignment we’re used to. There are two small changes, however. The expansion Seattle Kraken will begin their NHL experience in the Pacific Division while the Arizona Coyotes will move to the Central.

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs will go back to its usual format with the top three teams in each of the four divisions qualifying plus two Wild Card spots per conference to fill out the bracket.

RETIREMENTS

There were a number of NHLers who played their final games last season, including Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, and Ryan Miller. Joining them in hanging up their skates included Matt Calvert, Andrew Shaw, Niklas Hjalmarsson, David Backes, Carl Gunnarsson, J.T. Brown, and Stephen Johns.

Patrick Marleau, Brayden Coburn, and Eric Staal remain unsigned and may potentially join that list of retired players.

OUTDOOR GAMES, ALL-STAR WEEKEND RETURN

Outdoor hockey is back this season with three games outside once the calendar flips over to 2022.

Winter Classic – Jan. 1, 2022: Blues vs. Wild (Target Field, Minnesota)
Stadium Series – Feb. 26, 2022: Lightning vs. Predators (Nissan Stadium, Tennessee)
Heritage Classic – March 13, 2022: Sabres vs. Maple Leafs (Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton)

When the Maple Leafs and Sabres drop the puck in March the NHL will have played a total of 35 regular-season outdoor games in its history.

Along with outdoor hockey, All-Star Weekend is also coming back. T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas will host this season’s festivities. The weekend will also serve as a send-off for NHL players participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.

Feb. 4 – NHL All-Star Skills
Feb. 5 – NHL All-Star Game

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NHL BACK AT THE OLYMPICS

A year after promising the NHLPA that it would try its hardest to broker a deal for Olympic participation in 2022, the NHL finalized an agreement with the IOC and IIHF in September that will see players head to Beijing in February. It will be the first time NHL players take part in the Games since Sochi 2014.

The U.S. will be coached by Mike Sullivan of the Penguins, while Canada will see Jon Cooper of the Lightning behind their bench. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is leading the management team of the Americans and Doug Armstrong of the Blues is heading up the Canadian group.

Here is how the 12 teams are grouped:

Group A: United States, Canada, Germany China
Group B: Russian Athletes, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark
Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia

You can see the full round-robin schedules here.

There are two parts of the agreement that deals with the current COVID-19 pandemic. The first is all players participating in the Olympic tournament must be fully vaccinated. Also, if conditions worsen as February approaches, the NHL and NHLPA have the ability to opt-out of the tournament without financial penalty by January 10, 2022.

National teams will submit their “long lists” of players by Oct. 15 with final 25-man rosters announced in January. USA Hockey has previously announced its Olympic teams on the day of the NHL Winter Classic.

CRITICAL DATES

Oct. 12: Opening Night doubleheader with the Lightning raising their Stanley Cup banner vs. the Penguins and the Kraken playing their first regular-season game on the road against the Golden Knights.

Oct. 14: Blue Jackets to honor the late Matīss Kivlenieks. Rangers to honor the late Rod Gilbert.

Oct. 23: Kraken play first home game  at Climate Pledge Arena against the Canucks.

Nov. 12-15: Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Weekend (Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Kevin Lowe, Doug Wilson, Kim St-Pierre, Ken Holland)

Nov. 20: Islanders host Flames in first game at UBS Arena

Dec. 7: Lightning vs. Canadiens in 2021 Stanley Cup Final rematch

Dec. 20-27: NHL holiday roster freeze

Dec. 26-Jan. 5: IIHF men’s World Junior Championship

Jan. 8-15: IIHF women’s U-18 World Championship

Jan. 17: Chris Pronger’s No. 44 jersey retired by Blues

Jan. 18: Willie O’Ree’s No. 22 jersey retired by Bruins

Jan. 28: Serge Zubov’s No. 56 jersey retired by Stars and Henrik Lundqvist’s No. 30 retired by Rangers

Feb. 7-22: NHL Olympic break

March 21: 2022 NHL Trade Deadline (3 p.m. ET)

April 29: Last day of 2021-22 NHL regular season

May 2: 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin

June 30: Last possible day of 2022 Stanley Cup Final

July 7-8: 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal

July 13: Free agent frenzy begins (12 p.m. ET)

Sidney Crosby
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MILESTONES

• Joel Quenneville: 39 games away from 1,800 for his NHL head coaching career. 38 wins away from reaching 1,000.

• Barry Trotz: 70 games away from 1,800 for his NHL head coaching career. 23 wins away from reaching 900.

• Zdeno Chara, Joe Thornton: 1 game away from becoming seventh and eighth players in NHL history to play at least one game in 24 different regular seasons. The others: Chris Chelios (26), Gordie Howe (26), Mark Messier (25), Tim Horton (24), Alex Delvecchio (24), Jaromir Jagr (24).

• Joe Thornton: 76 games away from passing Mark Messier (1,756) for third all-time

Sidney Crosby: 14 goals away from reaching 500 for his career.

• Keith Yandle: 43 games away from passing Doug Jarvis for the NHL’s Ironman record (964).

• Marc-Andre Fleury: 8 wins away from becoming the third goalie in NHL history to win 500 games.

Alex Ovechkin: 2 goals away from passing Marcel Dionne (5th); 12 goals away from passing Brett Hull (4th); 37 goals away from passing Jaromir Jagr (3rd). He enters this season 164 goals behind Wayne Gretzky’s record.

Ovechkin also needs 6 power play goals to pass Dave Andreychuk for the NHL record (274).

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.

    Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

    They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

    “We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

    Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

    With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

    “Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

    The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.

    METROPOLITAN DIVISION

    The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

    “This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

    The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

    “Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

    They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

    “I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.

    ATLANTIC

    The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

    The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

    But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

    “You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

    The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.

    CENTRAL

    Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

    “It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

    They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

    “Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”

    PACIFIC

    Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

    The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

    Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

    “It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”